Friday, July 8, 2011/lk
Kirby Neumann-Rea's column Saturday about announcer Bill Schonely stirred "Where were you then?" sports memories ranging from Rip City to cup checks.
Rip City shouldn't require any explanation to sports fans who grew up with Portland Trail Blazer basketball. The Schonz could make a November Blazer-Golden State Warrior yawner sound like it was game seven of the NBA finals.
Schonely is known for his philanthropic work, so it's no surprise he signed on to help raise money for the Hood River SMART program. In fact, it was Schonely's involvement with the American Heart Association which landed me an interview with him on a summer day in the early 1990s.
We sat under a shade tree behind the 18th green at Illahe Hills Country Club in south Salem, where the Schonz was the honored guest at an AHA fundraising golf tourney. The conversation ebbed and flowed from open heart surgery to Blazer basketball to the Seattle Pilots - among other things. The Pilots, the precursor to the Mariners, played one major league season in the old Sicks Stadium, where Schonely was the team's play-by-play radio announcer.
He probably didn't announce the nuances of my newfound fascination to baseball in that 1969 season - cuss words and spitting through my teeth. Simply going to a big league game was heady stuff for a small-town, 10-year-old. But being able to watch batting practice and stand 20 feet away from the Baltimore Orioles as they played pre-game catch was over the top. Warming up along the first-base line were Don Buford and Paul Blair, part of Manager Earl Weaver's juggernaut team which would later win the American League pennant.
Blair and Buford's conversation was laced with four-lettered words that would have brought out Father Waldren's neck veins. My older brother, obviously more versed in such sporting vocabulary, seemed to shrug it off nonchalantly. But there's a big difference between age 10 and 13. By the time we had scrambled back up our seats, I could do a perfect Blair, forcing saliva between the gap in my front teeth. I also practiced a few of Buford's swear words, but was careful so my mom wouldn't hear.
The next time I watched the Orioles play they were losing in five games to the Miracle New York Mets. The mid-October series was one of the highlights of my sixth-grade year in Sister Joan's class. Behind her black Benedictine habit was a sports junkie, who no doubt was the first nun chosen during priory pickup games. Sister Joan scored big points with her class that year. It was hard to see the picture on the tiny black-and-white TV from my back-row, classroom seat. But being so far away also had its advantages; for one, John Lonergan and I made it through five innings before the aroma from the lemons we were secretly sucking on had drifted to the teacher's desk.
However, the most vivid memory of the series came midway through the fifth, and deciding game, when Cleon Jones adjusted his protective cup on national TV just before hitting a double off the outfield fence.
Jones would go on to score and the Mets would win, 5-3, but outcome was lost on me and my buddies who couldn't stop snickering about Jones' home plate routine.
A year later, Baltimore bounced back to take the 1970 World Series crown (though, despite protests, there would be no TV viewing at St. Luke's parochial). The Seattle Pilots were sold to Bud Selig, who moved the team to Milwaukee. And Schonely? He moved on to another sport where he enjoyed a Hall of Fame announcing career.